A Look at Crash Landing Lawsuits

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The first of what could be many lawsuits against Continental Airlines has been filed in connection with the aborted takeoff and crash of a Boeing 737-500 at Denver International Airport in December.

The Aero-News Network reported Continental Flight 1404 veered off the runway during takeoff on Dec. 20, 2008, and the aircraft was destroyed. Thirty-eight of the 110 passengers and crewmembers onboard were injured in the accident and post-impact fire, but none were killed.

It was speculated that a crosswind had caused the plane to leave the runway, but two Houston-area residents claim in a lawsuit that the pilot "negligently aborted" the flight. Melissa Craft and Emily Pelligrini do not specifically explain in what way the pilot was negligent in their lawsuit, but seem to claim that the plane would have been able to take flight if not for the actions of the crew.

The National Transportation Safety Board has noted pilots David Butler and Chad Levang attempted to reject the takeoff seven seconds after the plane left the runway surface. It is questionable whether the aircraft would have been able to take flight, and speculation that if the pilots had not aborted when they did, the accident could have been far worse.

An investigation of the crash is ongoing.

In a written statement, Continental spokesperson Julie King called the allegations of the lawsuit premature. King said Continental is focusing on assisting the passengers and crew of Flight 1404. She noted that the airline is continuing to participate in the NTSB investigation, which will likely take months to complete.

Injury lawyer Jason A. Gibson filed the lawsuit on behalf of the two passengers. Gibson asserts that the crash was caused by pilot error and has said that he will work to protect his clients' rights.

Craft and Pelligrini had both been vacationing in Colorado and were returning home when the accident occurred. Pelligrini claims that while trying to evacuate the plane, her seatbelt became stuck. She says that she later slipped and fell on leaking jet fuel. Craft claims that she suffered a back injury and emotional trauma because of the crash.

The women also claim that Continental has been unreasonable in replacing lost personal items that were destroyed in the crash and resent the airline's $3,000 limit on reimbursement for these items.

The lawsuit brings up questions about the more recent crash landing of US Airways Flight 1549. While The Wall Street Journal reports that no lawsuits have yet been filed, legal experts predict that passengers of Flight 1549 may file personal injury lawsuits claiming negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The problem with such lawsuits, according to Brooklyn Law School tort professor Aaron Twerski, is that there may be no indication of negligence. Twerski explains that if the pilots had been warned of the birds, or should have known about the birds that caused the engine failure, and failed to act accordingly, passengers may have a claim of negligence. However, all reports indicate that the birds were simply a freak accident.

The passengers of Flight 1549 may very well have suffered emotional distress, but proving that the pilot, crew or airline caused the distress through negligence may be a tough sell. Since it is impossible to sue the birds, there may be no cases to be won in this particular situation.


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